Before the automotive world took a giant downturn in 2002 by watching one of its longest tenured power-players cease production, GM decided to give us a Camaro worth remembering. The Fourth Generation Camaro was not wholly innovative in its execution, nor was it a fully formed, new iteration of the venerable Pony Car; what it was, however, was a very stout, rip-roaring good time on any back road, on-ramp, or traffic light in the country.
While you could have chosen the V6 base model, or the much more powerful Z28, the top of the line SS was the one to have. The Vette-derived LS1 was a fantastic bargain when it came to ponies per dollar. The overhead valve all-aluminum 5.7-liter V8 was equal parts inspiration and intimidation to anyone else on the road.
It pumped out a monstrous 325 horsepower and equally impressive 350 pound-feet of torque, and made the SS a car to be reckoned with. There was a choice between a T56 six-speed manual or a 4L60-E four-speed automatic, but there really was no choice at all. Unless you had a knee replacement, the six-speed was the only real transmission to have. That lofty sixth gear combined with a highway friendly 3.42:1 rear end gear gave the SS something none of its predecessors had—decent gas mileage. Rated at 17 city/28 highway, it actually made long road trips tons of fun without breaking the bank. Obviously, those figures were subject to the whims of the driver, and one with a bit of restraint could keep the fuel bills down nicely, while someone a bit more impulsive could see their nice mpg rating go up in tire-smoke with one too many traffic light sprints. Beyond the engine, the SS came with a scooped pseudo-ram-air hood, a curved spoiler, SS-specific wheels and tires—Goodyear Eagle F1 GS tires measuring 275/40ZR17—on all four corners. If you opted for the 35th anniversary package, you were entitled to twin racing stripes, and tons of 35th anniversary badging all over the car, which almost bordered on gratuitous. The interior was decidedly cheap, but for a test price of about $32,000, something had to give and GM wasn’t going to let it be the motor.
The 2002 Camaro SS was a muscle car, and, as such, it had the one thing you need: Muscle. Off the line, the SS smoked just about everything this side of a Viper (and might even eke a few wins out against those serpent-drivers if they were slow shifters). The SS could run from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, 0-100 in 11.8 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 107 mph. In fairness, that was the Camaro’s strong suit. It held its own on a skidpad, posting a decent 0.88g, while its braking was also good enough: 60-0 mph in 120 feet.
The 2002 SS was an old school car in a newer-school body. While it may seem archaic to those sophisticated Bimmer drivers, but the ability to take off its T-tops, and hear the exhaust of a full-throated American V8 with the wind in your hair while rocketing down the interstate was what the Camaro was built for. It wasn’t the best car in the world, nor was it even the fastest, but it was certainly fast enough to put a smile on your face and, something tells us, that’s how it would want to be remembered.